The 64-team DII Softball championship field was announced this past Monday. While there are many fascinating and exciting storylines that come with nearly every team in the postseason, there are three heading into the first weekend of the regional play that should be paid close attention.
Texas A&M-Commerce riding emotional weekend into first championships
The Texas A&M-Commerce softball team are newcomers to the championship field, having never been to NCAA postseason play before 2016. That’s quite the remarkable feat when you consider the fact that the Lions played their first game ever on Feb. 1, 2015.
Last season, head coach Richie Bruister led the Lions to a 29-24 record, the best debut season in modern Division II history. This year they became the first softball team in DII history to make the tournament in just their second year of play.
“It is certainly exciting,” Bruister said. “It’s a win for our university and community. To be a second year program, you obviously have to start it the right way to have this kind of success early. My hat’s off to our administration.”
That driving force behind that administration was Dr. Dan R. Jones. Dr. Jones was the man who approved the creation of the softball team and funded it and its facilities. This past Friday, at the age of 63, Dr. Jones passed away.
“Great man, very passionate about athletics,” Bruister said. “Without his leadership we certainly wouldn’t have a softball program and if somehow they did, it wouldn’t be as good as it is today. We were able to thrive under his leadership.”
With heavy hearts and the letters D.J. upon their uniforms, the Lions now prepare for their first regional game against Colorado Mesa this Thursday. It is a mindset that this team is unfamiliar with, as this is a situation unlike any other they have been in during their playing careers.
“We’re trying to teach them how it works, how every game is important,” Bruister said. “Trying to explain how things work to a young team that has never been there is a challenge in itself, just to get them to buy in and understand the importance of that starting back in February.”
It was way back in February, in fact, that Bruister knew he had something special. His team had a busy, successful first weekend. They went 3-1 in the St. Mary’s Tournament, including an 11-5 opening day victory against Heartland Conference tournament champion Lubbock Christian University. That set the pace for their season. Their speed would become their trademark as they finished second in the nation with 3.17 stolen bases per game.
“You look at that first weekend and our team’s speed,” Bruister said. “We’re extremely fast, and I didn’t know how that was going to play out. We don’t have as much power as some teams, but we are well balanced. We put a lot of pressure on some defenses that made them make a lot of mistakes and that allowed us to score a lot of runs. We knew we had something special right there. Then it was a question of how everything would come together with our young pitching staff.”
For more storylines, including Kelsey Hoppel’s unreal run and how the trio of Courtney Poole, Morgan Foley and Hannah Perryman will fare, click on the link below and check out the full article on the NCAA’s DII site!